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Make Your Home Office Work for You

Conquering clutter and boosting productivity will help you bring in more income from your home-based business

posted by Gwen Moran, May 7, 2012 More by this author

home office

Gwen Moran is a small business authority and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans.


home office
Nearly paper-free home office of John Matthews
courtesy of John Matthews, Gray Cat Enterprises
It’s a glorious day when your commute shrinks from a long car or train ride to a short walk down the hallway. But how you arrange your home office will have a big impact on what happens after you sit down at your desk.

I run my business from a corner of my dining room and a spare room in my house, so I know first-hand that setting up your home office properly can increase your productivity, save time and — maybe best of all — enable you to make more money.
 
How do you achieve the right setup? Here are seven keys:
 
Mark your home office territory. Whether you’ll be working in a converted closet or a spare bedroom, you should have a dedicated space that's separated from the rest of the house. This way, you won’t need to spend time putting away your files, computer and office supplies at the end of your workday. Also, a dedicated space will let you claim a home office deduction. The Internal Revenue Service requires that the office space be used exclusively for work, although it needn’t be an entire room.
 
Arrange your space for maximum productivity. This is something many home-business owners get wrong, says sustainable business consultant Paul Edwards, who co-wrote Working From Home with his wife, Sarah. Think about the tasks you do most frequently then arrange your workspace so anything you need for them will be within arm’s reach, Edwards says. For example, if your business requires that you assemble packages, maintain a clear, flat surface with the requisite packing materials nearby. As Edwards points out, saving just one minute on a task that you perform a dozen times a day can translate into more than an hour of time saved each week.
 
Get your home office organized. Half of the people who telecommute say that home office clutter hinders their productivity, according to a survey by office supply giant Staples. What's your organizational bugaboo? Are you drowning in paper? Always searching for a file? Buy the right products to tame those time thieves and you’ll save yourself many hours over the course of a year.

Desk and drawer organizers are a major asset, and an all-in-one printer will do away with the need for a space-hogging printer, fax and copy machine. John Matthews, founder of the retail consultancy Gray Cat Enterprises in Wake Forest, N.C., has made his home office almost entirely paperless. He scans receipts and documents then shreds them, and works exclusively with digital files.

If you do rely on paper, set up a clear filing system and use it -- label each folder in an easily-accessible drawer or cabinet or desktop holder. Set a time once a day or once a week to file items away there. Just be sure not to overstuff the folders.
 
Be safety-minded. Wire and cord jungles, paper scattered on the floor, and poorly arranged furniture can be safety hazards. Spend a few bucks on wire and cable organizers – plastic clips that trap the wires in your office and keep them together so they don't cause you to trip. Consider using desks and cabinetry with built-in outlets. I scored a U-shaped desk from Costco for about $200 that has a hutch, built-in electrical outlets and data ports, which keep my wires off the floor. Those papers on the floor? Either file them, toss them in the trash, or shred them. And spend a few minutes now and then to determine whether you need to move furniture around to avoid stumbles.
 
Be kind to your eyes. Avoid eyestrain by positioning your desktop or laptop monitor just above eye level and an arm’s length away. And supplement any natural light in your home office without reducing the contrast on your computer screen. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s office-lighting guide on our site recommends placing rows of lights above you, parallel to your line of sight. You'll also find some great home-office lighting ideas in the "Perfect Home Lighting Setup" article on the Apartment Therapy website.
 
Set up your computer and desk to avoid repetitive-motion injuries. Keep your keyboard and mouse level with where your elbows are when you’re seated. If your desk is too high, consider installing a keyboard tray under it.
 
If your space is limited, get creative and make your office do double duty. Interior designer Chris Grubb of the Arch-Interior Design Group in Beverly Hills, Calif., advises his home-office clients to “think multifunctional.” So instead of buying a file cabinet to store papers, find an armoire or dresser that can do double duty. (But first check with your tax adviser to make sure this won't affect a potential home office deduction.) In a recent Wall Street Journal story, Houston-based home decorator Lauren Rottet advocated forgoing a formal dining room and instead having a home office with a large desk that can double occasionally as a table.
 
What have you done to make your home office more productive, efficient or comfortable? Email your smart ideas to me at gwen@gwenmoran.com and I might discuss them in an upcoming NextAvenue.org blog post.
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